Drivers face two years in jail if caught driving dangerously while using a handheld mobile phone, under new guidelines brought into force by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The CPS are taking a tougher stance because half a million drivers in Britain break the current law everyday.

Cyclists who have had near misses with drivers talking into their mobiles will welcome the news.

Using a handheld mobile was outlawed in 2003, but the £30 penalty (increased to £60 this year) and points on the licence has proved an insufficient deterrent.

The standard penalty still stands but now if the CPS consider the standard of driving falls short of what is safe, they can press charges of dangerous driving, which carries a maximum two-year sentence.

Cases could include text messaging while driving.

A Transport for London survey last June revealed that only one in 6000 drivers who use a mobile phone while driving are apprehended and fined.

Replacing traffic police with speed cameras was said to be partly to blame.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) say that having a phone conversation while driving could be more dangerous that drink driving.

Their research found that a driver on a phone is for times more likely to crash than a driver over the legal alcohol limit.

Dr Nick Reed at the TRL says chatting to a passenger can be distracting, but less so than taking a call on the mobile. This is because a fellow passenger can see the traffic conditions and modify the conversation accordingly, whereas the remote caller will not.

There is nothing new in this. Research carried out five years ago at the University of Utah confirmed TRL?s findings. Both found that the driver is unaware that his or her attention is seriously impaired, that reaction times are four times slower. It is called ?attention blindness?.

Makes no difference if the driver is talking into hands-free phone. They escaped the ban because of the difficulty in detection.

The story made front page headlines in today?s Daily Telegraph, which reported that in 2005 there were 13 fatal crashes and 52 serious crashes linked to mobile phone use.

In August 2006 a lorry driver who was using his mobile phone killed a 23-year-old woman driver when he slammed into the back of her stationary car, crushing it. He was jailed for four years.

The mobile habit has become so entrenched; even MPs are known to use mobiles while driving, or cycling that matter.

Last November, The Independent reported how Liam Byrne, a minister in the Home Office – the very same authority which introduced the curbs on mobile phone use ? admitted breaking the law.

Byrne also admitted he was aware of the dangers, but was taking an important call at the time!

The Institute of Advanced Motorists commented that his excuse was ?totally unacceptable.?

Byrne was fined £100 with £35 costs and a £15 victim surcharge by Sutton Coldfield Magistrates Court.

Boris Johnson, the conservative candidate for the London Mayor?s job, admits to using a mobile phone while cycling.

Mobile phones were associated with 13 fatalities and 52 serious crashes in 2005.